American food brings people together in Southeast Asia
More often that not, when you meet a Thai person, the first thing they will ask you is, “Have you eaten?”
Concern about how you slept, what you were doing, or how you simply are depends on how you answer this question. If you haven’t eaten, you’ll quickly be taken care of with offers of mango and pineapple, papaya salad, or if you’re lucky, sticky rice covered with spicy fermented fish.
For the last two years, I’ve lived in the northeast of Thailand with the Asia Challenge Teams. Without a doubt, my taste buds and stomach have become accustomed to the level of spice in Thai food.
Occasionally, my friends will even say to me, “You can eat this spicy? You’re Thai already!”
They love to share their culture and food with those of us on the team and are always impressed to see foreigners eating their traditional foods with ease (or great hesitation).
As much as I love Thai food and sampling the favourites of my local friends, nothing compares to the way their faces light up when I offer to cook my favourites from home for them.
“Really?!” they always respond with big smiles.
I often find myself teaching my friends how to bake cakes, cookies and brownies. Most Thais don’t have ovens in their homes, so coming over and using even the team’s tiny oven is really special.
But in the last few weeks, many of my friends have left the city for university or travelling, so I offered to make each of them one last thing before we said goodbye. And all of them requested the same thing. While the flavours are familiar to Thailand, the combination is completely new.
As my friends leave for school and I prepare to go on home leave, most of my final words of encouragement to these women have been over a bowl of hot chili. Too many prayers to count have been said after one serving too many. Maybe it’s the spice that warms from the inside or the hearty beans and meat that sustain for the day. Maybe it isn’t as foreign as a meat pie or pasta. Or maybe it’s the only delicious thing I can make, and that’s why they keep asking for more.
I’m really thankful that I experimented so often during university with chili to be able to share it with people on the other side of the world. While I am always learning more about this culture and taking in all of the tastes of the region, I am glad to share something new with my friends here. Even though they can’t travel all the way to my country, I can bring them a typical taste of my home, with American–sized portions. As I share from my kitchen, my friends and I share from our hearts, deeper than times before.
Mallory's Recipe for Chili
Everyone makes chili differently. At least in America, there are as many recipes as there are people who make it. I usually just dump in everything I have and pray it turns out, and it always does. However, I thought I’d share the jist of what goes in my pot since I’ve adjusted some things since moving to Southeast Asia.
1 – 1.5 L tomato juice
.5 kg ground pork (Many people from Thailand don’t eat beef because they never have, or because it’s expensive. You can also use chicken or turkey depending on what is available for you where you are)
4 cups dark red kidney beans (rehydrated or 2 cans, drained)
2 cups corn
½–1 yellow onion
4–6 cloves of garlic, crushed
3–4 fresh tomatoes, diced
Ground chili powder or crushed red pepper (I usually add as much as I can handle, then serve the chili powder on the side for my friends to add more if they want)
Black pepper–to taste
Any other spices in your pantry–to taste
For Thai twist, you could add Thai basil, kale or fresh chilies.
1. Chop vegetables.
2. Brown meat on the hob.
3. Combine all ingredients and bring to boil and simmer, stir continually. The longer it cooks, the better it will taste.
4. Serve with bread, baked potatoes or rice.
5. If it is too spicy, you can add sugar. If you are eating with Thai youth, don’t be surprised if they like to add ketchup.
For years, Mallory dreamed of becoming an investigative journalist, famous for uncovering nasty, hidden truths from around the world. But since graduating from university, God has transformed her dreams to instead make known his truth to the world. Originally from small town, northern America, Mallory is currently serving in Thailand with the Asia Challenge Teams.